IEU defends early childhood teachers’ professional status

We highlighted the very real risk of creating a two-tiered system of minimum wages, conditions (and dignity) among teachers.

The IEU has rejected proposed changes to the national teachers modern award that could severely impact on our members, writes Senior Industrial Officer Michael Wright.

Since 2010 there have been 122 national modern awards that provide minimum conditions applicable to particular occupational or industry groups. These modern awards regulate minimum rates of pay and conditions.

IEU members are covered by three modern awards:

Educational Services (Teachers) Award (“the Teachers Award”) – covers teachers in schools and the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector

Educational Services (Schools) General Staff Award – covers all staff in schools, except teachers

Educational Services (Post-Secondary Education) Award – covers educational staff elsewhere.

A modern award will only impact on IEU members where they are not covered by an enterprise agreement. The schools sector is well covered by enterprise agreements and therefore the impact of changes to the modern award on school staff generally is low. However, for our members in early childhood, particularly in the for-profit sector, the impact of change is considerable.

Modern Award reviews

Until recently, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) was required to review all modern awards every four years. Given the tortuous nature of the process, the review that commenced in 2014 is still in train. However, we are now at the tail end of the process, with only the Teachers Award to be finalised.

Employers, the IEU and other parties sought changes to the Teachers Award in the review process. The focus was on changes that impacted on early childhood teachers and the early childhood education and care sector.

The IEU sought clarification of a number of matters, including coverage of directors under the Teachers Award and the Children’s Services Award. The employers sought changes to the span of ordinary hours and sought major changes to rostering arrangements that would have severely undermined certainty of working hours for members.

The review involved days of hearings and the preparation of evidence and submissions by all parties, including the IEU.

Transferring early childhood teachers

In mid-June the Commission handed down a lengthy decision that largely left the Teachers Award as is. But in an unusual development, the Commission also raised a new matter:

“During the course of the proceedings a number of witnesses commented on the difficulty associated with referring to two awards. [..]

“We see no good reason why the operator of an ECEC centre should have to refer to two awards in order to determine the terms and conditions applicable to the employees at their centre. It is our provisional view that the relevant part of the Teachers Award be transferred to the Children’s Services Award.

“We invite submissions in response to our provisional view.”

Effectively, the Commission foreshadowed removing early childhood teachers from the Teachers Award and placing them in the Children’s Services Award.

IEU makes the case

The IEU made submissions to the Commission questioning the practicality and point of such an approach. We highlighted the very real risk of creating a two-tiered system of minimum wages, conditions (and dignity) among teachers. We indicated that this would exacerbate gender inequality as early childhood teachers are almost universally women.

Our submissions emphasised the need to keep school and early childhood teachers under the same award. We stated that early childhood teachers:

have the same qualifications as their colleagues in primary schools and often work across both, sometimes simultaneously, performing fundamentally the same work

are qualified professional employees, and are (and should continue to be) provided with the same conditions as their professional colleagues

do not (at least without serious devaluation of their professional qualifications) slot into the pay and classification structures within the Children’s Services Award

perform different work to their educator colleagues, and are employed in a different capacity

work and are paid as salaried employees with flexible hours, in fundamentally different ways to their waged educator colleagues.

We expressed concerns that the contemplated change would “in the minds of many, excise early childhood teachers from their profession. It will reintroduce an historical dynamic, that has only in recent decades been addressed, that viewed early childhood teachers as somewhat lesser teachers than their colleagues in the school sector. The IEU, early childhood academics and the industry broadly see early childhood teachers embedded within the profession of teaching and the practice of education rather than the more care-centred focus of the children’s services sector.”

Finally, we expressed serious concerns that if the provisional view of the Commission were put into effect, outcomes in our long-running Early Childhood Teacher Equal Remuneration/Work Value case would not flow to early childhood teachers, by virtue of them being limited to the Teachers Award.

Overwhelming rejection of preliminary view

It is heartening to note that all but one of the submissions the Commission received rejected the concept of excising early childhood teachers from the Teachers Award. Submissions were received from:

Independent Education Union of Australia

Australian Education Union

Australian Nursing & Midwifery Federation

United Workers’ Union

Association of Independent Schools

Community Connections Solutions Australia

Australian Childcare Alliance

Only the submission of the rather marginal player, the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries, provided half-hearted support for the idea.

The union awaits the Commission’s decision, and we will also report this to members.